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Is It Normal for Couples to Argue?

Experts weigh in on which arguments are healthy in a relationship (and which are not)

Every couple fights. Yes, even the couples who look deliriously happy on Instagram. In fact, according to countless research studies, healthy arguing with your partner can be the key to a lasting relationship. 

But what is healthy? How often do couples fight? And how can you tell the difference between a destructive or a productive argument?

Dr. John Gottman, the author of How to Make Love Last, says that arguing in a relationship is completely normal when used as a positive form of communication; that is, it's used as a means to find solutions and compromises, and ultimately leads to greater understanding of each other. 

Why do couples fight?

Of course, there are lots of different reasons why couples fight. The majority of arguments that couples have are actually about behaviour – they are about the washing up, spending habits, differences of opinion, or the small day-to-day things such as who is going to take the dog for a walk. 

Experts say that unless these arguments are strongly attached to more fundamental differences between partners, they are usually fairly easy to resolve through discussion, negotiation, and compromise. However, when taking out the trash is really an argument about gender roles they become loaded and build resentment.

A healthy relationship to arguing is being able to move past these arguments with a greater knowledge and understanding of each other's perspectives, and a viable resolution to the issue at hand.

How often do couples fight?

Ever feel as though you’ve stumbled into your very own Groundhog Day every time you repeat the same argument? Gottman’s study of long-term relationships found that 69% of couple problems are perpetual (or recur throughout the relationship). 

To Gottman, it isn’t the amount of fighting that matters, it’s how you fight and if you’re fighting right. What counts, he says, is your ability to move past these “blockers” as a couple, instead of getting caught in a repetitive loop of the same argument. ⁠

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Is it normal for couples to argue constantly?

Rhian Kivits, a Relate qualified sex and relationship expert, warns against arguments that follow repeated patterns, focus on reoccurring themes, and escalate without resolution. These, she says, could become damaging to the relationship.

“This behavior can become a barrier to intimacy and relationships can become dominated by perpetual arguing and bickering, which is unhealthy.” says Kivits. “It can create a situation where the couple vilifies each other, harbors resentments and grudges, and projects blame towards each other.” 

Arguments turn into frequent fights when couples start to see their disagreements as battles. “Their individual focus is upon who will win – by being right or getting their own way – rather than on seeking a collaborative or mutually acceptable resolution to their disagreement.”

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How can you tell what an unhealthy argument is?

If you’re having the same argument on rotation, and you fail to reach a resolution each time, this is unhealthy for your relationship.

“If you are constantly arguing, it's possible that you or your partner are struggling with each other's differences and finding it hard to communicate, compromise and negotiate solutions together. Irreconcilable differences can indicate a lack of compatibility,” explains Kivits.

Yelling, or raising your voice in an argument can also be worrying – especially when an argument turns nasty, personal, or abusive – this means you’re no longer about communicating with each other, but engaging in unhealthy behaviour. 

Silence or abandonment are also examples of unhealthy arguing and usually emotional immaturity on one side of your relationship, says Kivits: “Punishing each other with silence or other actions with the intention of hurting each other's feelings is unhealthy, as is abandonment—such as when one partner walks out and then returns the next day hoping to ignore the issue.”

What to do if your partner ignores you

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What are healthy arguments?

Arguing is essentially about communicating with your partner – as we grow and change in relationships, there are bound to be things you’ll both need to vent about. However, reframing how you see arguments with your partner could be helpful and allow you to not get bogged down with how much you could be arguing. 

“In healthy relationships, couples realize that fighting is counterproductive, take responsibility for their own part in the problem and choose to communicate instead. It's unrealistic to say that couples should never fight, but it is reasonable to hope that they'll notice what's going on and decide to break the cycle,” says Kivits.

Healthy arguments normally concentrate on day-to-day behavior and how we react to factors such as sex or who does the cleaning. Healthy arguments can also cover more important topics, but it’s how we react to them that matters.

“A healthy disagreement is one where each partner communicates their own position while being willing to consider the other's perspective,” explains Kivits. “This might be heated, and difficult feelings might be shared. However, the couple's focus is to explore each other's viewpoint and establish a resolution.”

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